Few people saw the 2007—2008 financial meltdown coming, and there's little reason to expect the next recession to be much different. Despite important reforms since then, economic downturns are cyclical—and so far, we haven't figured out how to eradicate them for good. And that means it's only a question of when the next one will happen, not if.
While most of us can't avoid being affected, we can shore up our job skills right now and build resumes that are comparatively recession proof when job markets do tighten up. Not only that, we may be able to reduce our chances of being laid off and raise our chances of getting hired again (without taking a big pay cut) if we are. Here are four ways to do it.
During a recession, employers and recruiters prefer people with track records of considerable accomplishments in challenging environments to those with transferrable skills. So it helps to strengthen your resume by working on projects that are difficult and contribute significantly to your company’s growth.
These projects will often land you in unfamiliar territory and compel you to pick up new skills to tackle the unknown. If they're hard, messy, and high stakes, well, that's the point. Many projects will give you the opportunity to work under an experienced mentor who can help you build your knowledge outside the expertise required for your day-to-day job. And succeeding in tough undertakings like these can give you a powerful psychological boost, too, raising your confidence to take on bigger challenges—or weather hard times when they hit you unexpectedly.
But opportunities for "stretch" projects may not be easy to come by in your own organization. So if that's the case, look elsewhere. If you're comfortable in your role and ready for a change anyway, start checking out high-growth startups and industries where you'll be more challenged. Which companies and their projects are getting media attention? Working on high-visibility undertakings is also a great way to build a professional brand that can help you stay ahead in a competitive job market.
Learning quickly is a vital skill during a recession because market conditions change so fast, usually requiring you to use different methods in order to succeed. Besides, you might not find a job that requires the exact skill set you already have. So you'll need to demonstrate to recruiters that you have a track record of learning quickly—not just the potential to do so.
Take a look at your role and your industry. What certifications do your peers have that you might want to consider? What new technologies or methodologies can it help you to master? Picking up some new qualifications can not only boost your resume, it'll also expand your knowledge base and help you find new solutions to challenges at work.
To be sure, you can only build up so much knowledge individually. But it isn't about becoming your industry's Swiss Army knife. As you work on deepening your own skills, you should also build a wide network of experienced and credible people who can point you toward blind spots you might not know about. Show up to the right network and consider joining some industry groups. Sure, this can often be where job opportunities come from, but in the more immediate sense, they're also important ways to learn—including learning what it is that you don't yet know.
Every employer in the throes of recession needs adaptable workers who can switch gears and thrive even when the businesses' needs change. Think about how you stack up right now: How quickly can you adapt to a new team or new job duties? And at a personal level, can you adapt to a budget lifestyle without affecting your morale—and thus your ability to deliver results? (You can even try it on for size: Cap your monthly spending at a few hundred dollars less than you're used to and see how you adjust to living within artificially tighter means.)
One way to practice becoming more adaptable—and have a way of demonstrating that to prospective employers—is by working abroad. You'll learn to navigate culturally diverse teams, ply your trade under different market conditions, and pick up new business approaches that expand your perspective on your work.
When a recession hits, you might even find better opportunities in a country that's remained somewhat insulated from it—and if you've already lived and worked overseas, the idea of doing it again may not seem so daunting.
You already know that your personal brand can help make you attractive in the job market, but there are ways to tweak it in order to help you stand out during a recession in particular.
You'll still want to share your thoughts about your field to showcase your ideas and expertise—write for blogs and publications, interact with colleagues on social media, and pick up speaking opportunities. But you'll also want to use those personal branding efforts as a springboard to network with people at higher levels than you otherwise might.
Normally, we tend to network with people in similar roles or just a notch or two further ahead on their career paths. But to recession-proof your career, you should try to connect in particular with C-level leaders, the startup community, and HR decision makers—influencers who have the power to make you an offer or introduce you to someone who can.
Make a list of the C-level leaders you want to connect with and try to slowly build a relationship, using a breadcrumb trail of your personal branding efforts online to build up a rapport. This takes time, but it's easy to start doing in small bursts. Follow a certain leader on Twitter or comment thoughtfully on a Medium post they've written. Stop by a speaking event and grab a quick moment to introduce yourself.
The startup world is especially well-connected, and networking with entrepreneurs in your industry, as opposed to just the execs at well-established companies, can give you the network you'll want to draw on during a downturn. And HR leaders can not only give you a point of contact within a prospective employer, they can also connect you with other people within their own networks in similar positions.
Even in good times, building career capital takes a lot more than just hard work—it takes long-term goal setting, intelligent planning, and committed execution. But when a recession hits, all of that gets infinitely harder to do. So front-load the effort. If you can chip away at these steps now, you'll be glad you did the next time the job market suddenly tightens up around you.
Peter Banerjea is cofounder of SuccessIsWhat, a productivity blog. He has coached several entrepreneurs and leaders from Fortune 500 companies to become more productive and achieve their goals faster. Peter is also the author of the free ebook Productivity Secrets of 7 Billionaires You Can Put into Action Right Now.